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The End of (Journalistic) Integrity

Posted by Rick · September 20th, 2004 · 3 Comments

I was going to call this just “The End of Integrity,” because lying has truly become a national epidemic. In fact, the easiest way these days to tell an American is lying is to check to see if his or her lips are moving. In the past, it was safe to assume someone was truthful until they proved otherwise; these days, only the reverse is a safe option.

By the way, that rule for determining when Americans are lying isn’t limited to oral reports. Maybe we should just say, “How can you tell an American is lying?” Answer: “He or she is communicating something.” That’s why I check as many sources as I can when someone makes a suggestion to me that I blog a particular topic. It’s also why most of what I write here is unabashedly my view, my opinion, on matters, rather than any attempt to function as a newspaper meant to inform you about facts you might not already know.

This whole latest “news” debacle is just one reason why the aggregation of “news” — which increasingly isn’t news anyway; just another form of entertainment at best and bald manipulation at worst — into the hands of the few Rupert Murdochs of the world is a bad idea.


CBS News today affirmed that it is unable to prove it did not mislead the public when it “reported” a story about Bush’s military service. They have thus virtually guaranteed that the American public will be unable to obtain information about the issues leading up to the election. Instead, more fuel is added to the fire about things that really are only tangentially important to the campaign.

In a statement, CBS said former Texas Guard official Bill Burkett “has acknowledged that he provided the now-disputed documents” and “admits that he deliberately misled the CBS News producer working on the report, giving her a false account of the documents’ origins to protect a promise of confidentiality to the actual source.”

The network did not say the memoranda — purportedly written by one of Mr. Bush’s National Guard commanders — were forgeries. But the network did say it could not authenticate the documents and that it should not have reported them.

“Based on what we now know, CBS News cannot prove that the documents are authentic, which is the only acceptable journalistic standard to justify using them in the report,” said the statement by CBS News President Andrew Heyward. “We should not have used them. That was a mistake, which we deeply regret.

“Nothing is more important to us than our credibility and keeping faith with the millions of people who count on us for fair, accurate, reliable, and independent reporting,” Heyward continued. “We will continue to work tirelessly to be worthy of that trust.” No Byline, CBS: Bush Memo Story A ‘Mistake’, CBS “News” Online, ¶ 4-7 (September 20, 2004).

A little late for that, isn’t it, Mr. Heyward?

As I said, this will create a nice diversion as everyone dives deep into a discussion of whether or not Bush actually was AWOL from his required duties while others counter that Kerry was busy shooting up enemy combatants, or posing for pictures to hang in Hanoi.

Think character is important in a candidate? Okay, then let’s get someone with character — I don’t know, maybe Ralph Nader — to run.

It seems to me that what we need to be talking about is what I mention nearly every time I talk about how you should vote in November: What’s happening in your life? Are things better since Republicans took office? Or are they worse?

Now, ideally, Americans should be educated about what it means to be a citizen within a democratic republic like the United States used to be. That’s not going to happen. We don’t get the education in school and 99.9% of the public isn’t going to pursue such an education after they’ve escaped what, to them, was the unnecessary task of formal education they suffered through before becoming burger flippers — or better-educated technicians, like doctors.

So until or unless you can take the time to learn about such things (and for those who desire to do so, a good start is my article on “Re-Adopting the Constitution”) the next-best thing is to take a serious look at your own personal life. Since the proper functioning of a democratic republic depends, to a great extent, on how well the interests of the citizens are represented, looking at how well the tenuously-related circumstances of your own life have gone, if done by a large enough aggregate of people, is a suitable substitute for due diligence to your duties as a citizen. And this is one area where you just have to trust that Kant’s Categorical Imperative is your best alternative to doing the difficult work of learning something, so go for it.

Whatever you do, stop listening to the “news” to try to figure out how to vote. Until they all stop lying, or functioning as partisan propaganda arms of the parties — not necessarily the same things — you’re better off acting only based on what things you can actually see for yourself.

Oh, and the reason I didn’t just call the article “The End of Integrity”? Because one day I hope to sit down and do a more detailed piece on how the pervasive lack of integrity in America is damaging us all; I wanted to save the title for that day.

Special thanks to Bob Marcotte for pointing me to CBS: Bush Memo Story A ‘Mistake’.

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3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Bob // Sep 21, 2004 at 11:45 am

    A campaign adviser for John Kerry told CNN he spoke with retired Texas National Guard officer Bill Burkett — the man
    who CBS said provided them with disputed documents — days before the “60 Minutes” piece aired and after a call from a CBS news
    producer, but strongly denied any connection with the story.

    The Bush-Cheney campaign quickly condemned the latest revelation in the reporting scandal, calling on the Kerry camp to “come
    clean” on its involvement.

    Source: http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/09/21/cbs.kerry.adviser/index.html

    It has been a point of contention on this blog that both the Republican and Democratic machines play dirty tricks on each other and
    smear the opposition.

    The Republicans manufactured the ‘Swift Boat’ group to attack Kerry’s war record and now forged documents smearing Bush’s time in
    the reserves are discovered.

    A Republican campaign advisor was linked to the ‘Swift Boat’ group and in this ‘news’ article a Democrat advisor is linked to the
    forgeries.

    It seems that disinformation is as valuable a tool in an election as a platform.

    Oops, what am I saying?

    I meant to say a big war chest of cash donated by supporters expecting favors is more valuable tool than a platform on which to
    lead this country.

    Sorry, my bad!

    The sorriest fact in this whole mess of truth and ethics is the rabid followers of both parties digest the party line without
    thinking, and that makes for a very, very scary country to live in.

  • 2 Bob // Sep 21, 2004 at 11:46 am

    Caretakers of the press can navel-gaze and chin-stroke themselves silly over this, but the damage to image and
    credibility that everyone frets over was done long before “Memogate,” as ubiquitous Internet bloggers call it. Polls and viewership
    numbers have indicated for some time now that people are watching news channels they believe to be sympathetic to their own
    political beliefs.

    This is an excellent article by Tim Goodman from the San Francisco Gate.

    Source: http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2004/09/21/MNGET8SAB01.DTL

    Not only is Rather’s ‘blunder’ disturbing, but so is the trend that viewers tune into news that agrees with their viewpoint. Now
    television news is no longer tasked with informing the populace but informing them of the party line.

    What’s also interesting is what constitutes a ‘news event’ in the blogsphere. The NeoCon blogs were fuming at Rather and CBS for
    weeks about the forged documents while the ‘liberal’ blogs were barely mentioning the story.

  • 3 Rick // Sep 21, 2004 at 11:58 am

    As to the comment about the differential commenting by bloggers, e.g., “what constitutes a ‘news event'” — the problem is that one can only go off what the news out there appears to show.

    This is exactly why I’ve been arguing that Americans have been done a major disservice by the fact that the Rupert Murdochs of the world have decided how news will be reported and that those decisions are unconnected with journalistic standards that determined how stories were published in the past.

    In my case, for example, I did comment upon the stories — and my comments reflected what I was able to learn by reading about the conflict.

    I hinted at the complications that a lack of integrity creates for us all in my last article. The difficulty is that bloggers are not news reporters — and definitely we’re not news reporters of the old school. Even to the extent that we were, we don’t have the resources to go out and investigate the truth of the stories reported by mainstream media. The best we can hope for is to look for inconsistencies between different streams of information. This is why, for example, I try to read sources outside the United States, in addition to those internal to the States.

    Bloggers — conservative or liberal — are, to the extent that they are honest, constrained like everyone else to being able to read only the “facts” that are available.

    When the world — not just the blogosphere — becomes so tainted by stories planted by political operatives and perpetuated by the mainstream press, it becomes virtually impossible to know what’s true and what isn’t.

    This is also one reason why I’ve persistently argued that people need to stop paying attention to so-called “character” issues. You cannot judge a person’s character — at least not accurately — when all the “news” available to you is simply character assassination, or those attempting to refute the character assassination.

    Instead, we need to try to turn directly to viewing the words of the candidates — as they come out of their own mouths, because you cannot even trust the reportage of what they supposedly said — and try our best to see what they’ve really, actually, provably done in terms of their public service — forget their military service!

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